Written by The Mom
We don’t lie to our kids.
Ok, that’s not completely true. There are some instances that we tell little lies.
“Yes, I’ll set the timer for nap time and wake you up when it goes off. Just go to sleep now.” Like I would wake my kids up from naps once they’re finally asleep.
“We can’t feed the ducks right now, they’re all sleeping.” I actually have no idea if they’re sleeping, I just don’t feel like walking all the way down to the pond to find out.
“Yes sweetie, that would be awesome if you could fly.” As if I need the kids flying around the house, too. What a disaster that would be.
Sometimes these small lies make the day run a bit smoother and are easier than a longer explanation for little kids.
We don’t lie to them just because we could or because it’d be easy to. We don’t lie to them because they’re little. We don’t lie to them especially because they’re little.
It’s pretty easy, actually, telling kids the truth. Sometimes we have to slow down and choose our words a bit more carefully to balance truth with what our kids are capable of understanding at their age. Sometimes we have to take a few extra minutes to answer truthfully. Sometimes we have to tell the kids we’ll talk about it later if we’re in a hurry rather than making something up to satisfy them in the moment. But once you get the hang of it, it’s easier than you would expect.
The easy part is how much kids can actually comprehend. They don’t need things sugar-coated. Simplified down to the level of their understanding, yes… But not sugar-coated. When you give your kids a chance, they understand a lot more about life and how things work than you would expect them to.
Kids soak everything up like a sponge. They have no frame of reference, so anything and everything is plausible to them. We want the truth, not lies, to influence the way our kids see their world.
Trust is learned
Babies and trust
From the 16th week of pregnancy, a baby can hear sounds in the womb. By the 24th week, babies will turn their heads in response to sounds outside the womb and can recognize their mother’s voice and other voices they hear regularly, such as their father’s. The baby’s needs are automatically met in the womb; he is comfortable, warm, fed. The seeds of trust spring up.
When that baby is born into the world he depends on his parents for everything. Trust starts with the very basic and simple concept of his needs being met. The baby cries when he is hungry and his mother feeds him. The baby cries when he is wet and his mother changes him. The baby cries when he is sleepy, lonely, scared, cold… Each time his needs are met, that trust grows.
Babies learn to trust us when we meet their physical needs.
Toddlers and trust
Toddlers are more complicated. They still have physical needs but now they are also starting to experience emotional needs. They suddenly have lots of big feelings that they don’t know how to understand or respond to. How do we know when a toddler is experiencing an emotion that is too big for them? They’ll let us know. Fear, disappointment, anger, frustration, exhaustion, hunger… All of these emotions will show through, often in ways that many of us have been taught is unacceptable or “bad” behavior. Crying, talking back, picking on siblings, not listening or following instructions are all signs that our toddler has an emotional need. Kicking, screaming, and throwing tantrums are the extreme expressions of these emotions. If we are paying attention, these emotions can be spotted before they reach that point and we can give our children the tools they need to address and process them.
Toddlers look to us for help. When we gently guide them through big feelings, they will trust us even more. They’ll learn that we are not easily intimidated, scared, or embarrassed by their emotions or, more importantly, by them. They’ll learn that we love and accept them no matter how they behave or what they do. Punishing their “bad” behavior might bring results in the short-term but those results might come with consequences: resentment, distrust, and feelings of short-coming or failure within themselves. Calmly responding to their needs no matter how big they might seem will teach our toddlers that they can trust us.
Toddlers learn to trust us when we meet their physical and emotional needs.
Children and trust
“Where do babies come from?”
“What happened to Grandpa and Grandma’s dog?”
“What happens to your body when you die?”
“Why do boy’s bodies looking different from girl’s bodies?”
Our kids have asked my husband and me questions that make us feel uncomfortable or leave us wondering how to respond. These are feelings we’ve learned to associate with certain topics like anatomy or death. As we’ve talked about these things with our kids, we’ve come to realize that this is not how kids feel about these topics. Kids feel curiosity and interest. It’s the same curiosity they have about how eggs hatch, or why you float in space. If we are ashamed or embarrassed about certain topics, our kids will be too, and they’ll probably stop talking about them. Talking to our kids gives us the opportunity to relearn our feelings about these topics, too. And child psychologists and sexual violence prevention specialists agree that learning the proper names for body parts can be important for preventing childhood sexual abuse. Our kids know that they are in control over who can touch their bodies in what way, even with hugs and tickling. If we skirted around the truth by using cute nicknames or by changing the subject when they asked questions about their bodies, our kids would never learn how or when to say stop, or even if they are allowed to say it.
Our kids also know where babies come from. They were at Baby B’s birth. They know exactly how babies are born. They learned about the umbilical cord and how it feeds baby. They know about breastfeeding, what it looks like, and why it’s important for babies.
Our kids also know about death. They know that the body is laid in a special bed called a casket when you die. They know that people and animals, like Grandma and Grandpa’s dog, die when they are old.
These honest conversations have taught us so much about our children. Kids are compassionate, deep, and understand far more than a lot of people give them credit for. I always enjoy these moments connecting with my kids and learning more about who they are and what goes on in their minds. When I put my own feelings aside and meet my child’s need, I learn and grow right along with them.
Children learn to trust us when we meet their physical and emotional needs, and their need to know about the world around them.
The truth does not hurt
Sometimes people lie to kids because they think it will protect them. Our kids are still innocent. They do not understand the fear of death or how many ways people can die. They do not know what sex is, or sexual predators. They have not been hurt by honesty.
Some questions we answer simply. When I was pregnant with Baby B, the kids wanted to know how he got in my tummy. We told them the truth but simplified it in a way that they could understand. We told them Mommy and Daddy planted a seed there and now a baby is growing. They were completely satisfied with this answer. Kids don’t need details that are scary or confusing. We stick to the truth, but simplified down to what we know they are capable of understanding and handling at their ages.
Our kids are not missing out by not believing in Santa Claus or the tooth fairy. We still play the games with them (“Look, Santa brought presents!”), but if they ask, we tell them that Santa (and the tooth fairy or whoever) are pretend and just for fun, like Disney princesses or other characters from their shows and books. They get just as much excitement out of it as any of their friends do.
We are a family who believes in God. If we told our kids that Santa Claus exists, that the tooth fairy exists, that magic exists, that God exists… Would they one day believe God is just a fairy tale like all of the others? I don’t know the answer, but I feel like it’s important to always tell them the truth about what I believe so that they know in their hearts that I have never misled them or told them to believe in something I myself don’t believe.
I don’t judge parents who let their kids believe in Santa Claus. I did, growing up, and it was fun. I don’t know if lies (even fun ones) would hurt my kids, but I know that the truth won’t.
Kids copy what is modeled
Honesty is very important to my husband and me. It’s one of the major foundations of our marriage. We know how awful it would feel if we found out one of us was lying. We tell the truth because we respect and love each other.
We tell the truth to our kids for the same reasons. We want honesty to be one of the major foundations in our relationships with our children as well. We hope that as they grow up they always know that they can tell us anything and everything because they trust us. We love and respect our children so we are honest with them.
We try to model what we expect our kids to do or know. Honesty is a complicated concept and we don’t expect our kids to understand it all at once. Kids lie. Miss C has reached the age where she has started experimenting with lies. She uses lies to try to get away with things. While we remind her that we don’t like it when she lies to us, we are also aware that at her age her brain can’t really understand the full meaning or importance behind honesty.
Our kids are still little and so are their mistakes. While they are little is the best time for us to place emphasis on their honesty rather than the consequence of their mistakes. We remind them often that even if they are afraid we might be angry, it is important that they tell us the truth and if they do, we will help them and figure out a solution together. For our part, we try to honor that promise as much as possible. For example, if our son comes to us and tells us that he dropped something and broke it, we thank him for telling us and then we clean it up or fix it together.
At our kids’ ages, lying is mostly exploratory and a way to test their boundaries. We try to limit their opportunities for lying while they are this age. For example, instead of saying, “Did you hit your brother?” we say, “I heard/saw you hit your brother just now. I know you’re angry but I won’t let you hurt anyone else. When you feel angry, it might help if you colored or read a book by yourself for awhile. If you want to hit something, it is safe to hit your pillow.” This addresses the actual issue rather than trapping them into responding with a lie.
I know as my kids grow that I will continue to be amazed at the things I learn about them when I tell them the truth. I hope they will always feel comfortable opening up and honestly sharing with us as well, no matter how old they are. I hope that as they grow up that they will value honesty in others and seek it out in their friendships, in their dating relationships, and with each other. While I don’t hold any delusions that my kids will always be honest with me in every situation, I hope that through my example they will learn that honesty goes hand-in-hand with love and respect.